The Crisis Clubs: a Weekly Guide to Premier League Turmoil
In case you hadn’t noticed, each week the Premier League sees a specific team fall into crisis. Bad form, shock results, poor management, unforced errors; some or all of these factors can plunge one of the division’s beloved 20 sides into momentary turmoil, transforming them into the main character in Premier League narrative for that week. More often than not the crisis club will be a member of the Big Six but not always and, no matter who it is, the next set of fixtures will invariably throw up a new team to take up the crisis mantle, and the nation’s attention will pivot instantly to the league’s new whipping boys for the week. Here, then, is an ongoing guide to the Premier League’s crisis clubs in 2022-23.
MD15 & MD16: Chelsea
This crisis correspondent was overseas following Kevin Lasagna last weekend so had to make do with periodic updates about how Chelsea were getting on against Arsenal. A simple glance at the scoreline might have suggested that this was a close run London derby, when it was actually a very dominant display from Mikel Arteta’s team, who restricted Graham Potter’s side to only five shots and 0.3 xG. That made it two defeats in a row in the league, after the embarrassing reversal at Brighton, so, heading into MD16 and a difficult assignment in Newcastle, Chelsea were facing up to three successive Premier League defeats for the first time since autumn 2015, when as reigning champions Jose Mourinho’s second spell in charge of the club imploded.
The fact that Newcastle are going so well is an additional concern for Chelsea. Liverpool’s slow start to the season had eased open a top four spot but Newcastle’s form has essentially shut that off. The Analyst supercomputer now rates Eddie Howe’s team as 35.5% fifth favourites to finish in the Champions League places, with Manchester City, Arsenal, a recovering Liverpool and Tottenham ahead of the Magpies, in that order. Chelsea’s defeat at St James’ Park on Saturday evening was the first time since 2012 that they’d mustered less than 0.5 xG in consecutive Premier League games, and goalscoring remains the fiendish puzzle that Potter has to solve in the coming weeks. Chelsea’s total of 17 goals (and an associated goal difference of zero) is one fewer than promoted Bournemouth have scored, and one fewer than Erling Haaland too. Chelsea’s luring of the Brighton recruitment team to join Potter is certainly something to keep an eye on when the transfer window opens in January.
No-one wanted to be the crisis club of MD16 because everyone knew it was the final matchweek before the World Cup break, so it’s a slow burn of a predicament, on in which Chelsea will spend six weeks being as close to the relegation zone as they are to the top four. The new regime at the club promised a patient approach and that’s exactly what it will take.
Welcome back Liverpool, who are the Premier League’s crisis club for a fourth time this season. For a while on Saturday it looked like it would be Chelsea, who contrived to score two own goals in a Premier League game for the first time, and concede four goals to a team beginning with the letter ‘B’ for the second time in 2022, after only doing so once in the preceding 29 years. Graham Potter’s first defeat as Chelsea boss was drenched in narrative, could anything top it?
Enter Liverpool FC. For the eighth time this season Jürgen Klopp’s team conceded the opening goal of the game, something only Southampton have done more often, and this one was sensational in its calamitousness, Joe Gomez spraying a no-look pass to where he thought Alisson might be operating, while the goalkeeper slipped and fell on the greasy turf. A Mohamed Salah goal brought Liverpool level with more than 75 minutes of the game left, but the home side managed only two more shots in the rest of the first half.
The second half did bring elements of a Liverpool resurgence (16 shots, seven on target) but they met Illan Meslier in the sort of form that means he is only the second goalkeeper this season to make 9+ saves in a Premier League game, a performance which enabled Crysencio Summerville to become the youngest visiting player to score a winning goal at Anfield in the Premier League since Wayne Rooney in January 2005. After recording more than 90 points in three of the last four seasons but only winning one league title, Liverpool are currently on course to get 51 this season. After 12 games they are 15 points behind Arsenal, a club they finished 23 points ahead of in 2021-22. Liverpool also have exactly the same record after a dozen games as they did in 2010-11, or “the Roy Hodgson season” as it’s more commonly known. Those aren’t good optics.
No-one likes to admit it too much but luck plays a significant part in how a football season transpires. In 2019-20 Liverpool saw almost every edge scenario go in their favour, in 2022-23 the opposite is true. Quite obviously they aren’t playing as well as they used to, but they still could — and should — have beaten Leeds on Saturday. They didn’t, though, and the crisis is real. Now we wait and see what Napoli will do to this group of beleaguered players in midweek.
MD13: Wolverhampton Wanderers
A veritable smorgasbord of crisis options this weekend. Could it be two-steps-forward-one-step-back Liverpool FC, after their “is it August 1992?” 1-0 defeat away to Nottingham Forest. It was a less than ideal result for Jürgen Klopp’s team but with Chelsea and Manchester United drawing, and Tottenham losing, it’s not like they lost too much ground in what is looking like a low-quality chase for prime league table position. Less a crisis then, more a sense of pervading gloom. What about Spurs, who lost for the second game in a row, going down 2-1 at home to Newcastle in a result that sees Eddie Howe’s team climb into the top four and strike fear into Big Six™️ outcome analysts up and down the country. It’s been a bad week for Antonio Conte, but pure crisis? Not quite yet.
OK, what about Leeds United, who haven’t won a Premier League game since they defeated Chelsea in August. The away fans turned on Jesse Marsch at Leicester in midweek and to follow that up with a home defeat to Fulham while sliding into the bottom three is… less than ideal. Yet Leeds, like Villa and Bournemouth before them, do have that option of changing the manager, which invariably results in an improvement of some kind. You know it, I know it, football club chairmen know it.
No, the club with the purest energie-de-crisis right now are Wolverhampton Wanderers, a side who have already taken the decisive step of getting rid of their manager, Bruno Lage, but have found it impossible to replace him. Seasoned Wolves watchers will recall a very similar scenario in 2011-12, when the club sacked Mick McCarthy after losing heavily to West Brom, but were unable to secure a successor and ended up with McCarthy’s assistant, Terry Connor, in charge for the rest of the campaign. A decade on and the current Wolves team simply cannot score goals. Their total of five in 12 games works out as 16 across the entire season and, as it stands, the lowest number of goals ever recorded in an English top-flight season is 20, by Derby County 2007-08 (obviously) and Sheffield United in 2020-21.
Diego Costa is – who knew – not the player he was half a decade ago, and last season’s semi-cheat code, goalkeeper José Sá, has seen his significant overperformance from last season (8.7 goals prevented) regress hugely in the following campaign (minus-3.6 goals prevented). This sort of thing always catches up with you in the end and now Wolves, with caretaker boss Steve Davis facing up to a bleak winter, are left looking like they’ll need snookers to stay up.
MD12: Aston Villa for about 20 minutes after losing to Fulham until they dismissed Steven Gerrard
A rapid anti-crisis manoeuvre that saw them gallop to a 4-0 win against Brentford in the next game.
MD11: Nottingham Forest
Liverpool’s two week residency as the Premier League’s crisis club is over, and like European Cup hegenomy in the late 1970s, they have handed the crown on to Nottingham Forest. In a weekend where the only member of the Big Six to lose were Manchester City, and hardly in disgrace (playing a key role in yet another pulsating Liverpool vs. City narrative clasico does not a crisis make), we must look elsewhere in the storied prairies of the Premier League to find our incumbent. Some might suggest Aston Villa, with many if not most of the club’s fans rapidly losing patience with manager Steven Gerrard, but their 2-0 defeat to Chelsea on Sunday was unfortunate, the Villans coming up against the double whammy of Kepa Arrizabalaga in magisterial form and Mason Mount underlining his foundational importance to the Potterball project. It’s not shaping up to be a classic season for Villa but there are other teams in a worse position.
Like, say, Nottingham Forest. The side promoted through the play-offs and rebuilt with a fax machine over the summer had a huge game at Molineux on Saturday. Wolves, as an established Premier League club, were arguably in a gloomier position than Forest heading into this one, managerless and having scored three goals all season. No-one expected a classic and, to be fair, they weren’t disappointed. The game was a tale of two penalties, with Ruben Neves making one of his rare but ominous journeys into the opposition box to score one, and Brennan Johnson failing for Forest late on, after VAR had intervened. Wolves climbed out of the relegation zone, Forest slipped to the bottom after Leicester’s dour point against Palace earlier in the afternoon. 23 goals conceded after 10 games equals a Forest club record for the leakiest start to a top-flight season, matching the 23 they had let in at this stage in 1905.
But it’s not records from the sepia world of 1905 that Forest are worried about. There’s a certain set of numbers from 2007-08 that haunts the East Midlands soccer scene, namely Derby County’s record-destroying campaign that saw them end with only 11 points, one win, 20 goals scored and 89 conceded. Eleven points across 38 games is so bad it’s almost impossible to recreate — for instance see Sheffield United claiming two points from their first 17 games in 2020-21 but still ending the campaign on 23 points — but until Forest get past 11 this season their fans will have that nagging fear they might outdo their arch-rivals. After 10 games in 2007-08 Derby had scored fewer goals than Forest this season but had conceded one fewer and had one point more. With Liverpool, Arsenal, Manchester United and Chelsea all coming up in their next seven league games, Forest know now, if they didn’t before, that this season could be a long old grind. Avoiding defeat away at Brighton on Tuesday night, and preferably picking up all three points, takes on huge importance.
From this point in 2007-08 Derby took only one point from their next 13 games; surely Forest can do better than that?
Liverpool unstylishly retain the crisis club position this week after a 3-2 defeat at Arsenal that leaves them 14 points behind the Gunners in the league and 13 behind Manchester City, who they face next weekend. True, Liverpool have a game in hand, but that’s away at Chelsea and do they look like a team who can handle that sort of assignment in their current state? A 2-0 home win against Rangers in the Champions League was a trial for a new, potentially season-rescuing 4-2-3-1 formation, but it turns out there’s a big difference between facing a Scottish Premiership outfit and a relentless, vivacious Arsenal team who keep being presented with major hurdles and keep jumping over them.
The list of concerns for Liverpool is long and getting worse:
- They have conceded the opening goal in 10 of their last 12 Premier League games
- 10 points from eight games is Liverpool’s worst start since 2012-13
- They are below two of the three newly promoted teams in the league table
- This is the first campaign since the Roy Hodgson Season™️ that Liverpool have failed to win any of their opening four away games
Perhaps the starkest bit of information is that, in a development that will surprise absolutely no-one who has witnessed how Liverpool have begun games this season, Jürgen Klopp’s team would be bottom of the league if only the first halves of Premier League games counted. Yes of course, that’s not how football works, and Liverpool have shown brief glimpses of their famous powers of recovery this season, but even so, their ongoing ability to hobble themselves early on means their Crisis Club status is well earned, and – more ominously – may be hard to shake off, especially with Erling Haaland and company to face in MD11. It’s said that decline happens slowly and then all at once, and that’s very much the fear with Liverpool at the moment; they’ve had some huge games with Manchester City in the last decade but MD11’s encounter is shaping up as an epoch-defining game. Is this a frustrating blip or a permanent shift of power? We’ll find out soon enough.
A variety of options this week. Tottenham crashed to a 3-1 defeat at Arsenal, but they’ve only won one of their last 30 Premier League away games against their arch-rivals so this wasn’t a crisis moment, just a slide into despondency at the realisation that Arsenal might well be too legit to quit. Manchester United played their part in the highest-scoring Mancunian derby of all-time, losing 6-3 to the local and national champions Manchester City but Pep Guardiola’s team were once again parading human cheat code Erling Haaland and not many expected work-in-progress United to trouble City. They even won the second half 3-2. Wolves meanwhile, looked sullen and toothless in their defeat to West Ham but news came through on Sunday afternoon that the club had parted company with manager Bruno Lage. That’s not crisis swirling over Molineux, it’s renewed hope.
So that leaves Liverpool, who played out a 3-3 draw with Brighton and Hove Albion on Saturday afternoon, a point that probably looked acceptable when they found themselves 2-0 down after 17 minutes, but felt like a defeat given they led 3-2 from the 63rd minute until Leandro Trossard’s hat-trick goal with seven minutes remaining. The draw — combined with other results this weekend — leaves Liverpool 11 points behind Arsenal and 10 behind perennial title rivals Manchester City (albeit with a game in hand on both) and, historically, any chance of a 20th league title is gone. The last team to have 10 points or fewer from their opening seven games but win the league were Liverpool themselves back in 1981-82, but that’s a footballing landscape that has long changed. It’s a marathon and a sprint these days.
So while Liverpool now have to focus on finishing in the top four this season it’s giving the opposition great chances to finish that is repeatedly undermining the team. Brighton had six shots at Anfield this weekend; all of them were on target and all were recorded as clear-cut chances by Opta. Nervous Liverpool have given up more open play xG this season than struggling Wolves and Southampton so it’s clear where the issue lies. “The confidence level is not extraordinarily high,” Klopp said after the game. Sure, that’s the way of the crisis club.
MD8: Leicester City
You may remember that Leicester won the Premier League in 2015-16 and had a decent run in the Champions League the following season. Always enjoy the good times because they’re only prologue to the bad times coming back and so far 2022-23 is looking like an absolute shocker of a campaign from Leicester. A somehow all-too-predictable 6-2 defeat to Tottenham in MD8 not only ensured the Foxes stayed rock bottom of the division but also saw them set a Premier League record for goals conceded in the first seven games of the season, posting the worst such record in the English top flight since 1965. Leicester are worse off than local rivals Derby County were at this stage in 2007-08, a season which set possibly unbreakable records for how bad a team could be. Are Leicester City going to get more than 11 points this season? Almost certainly. Does this stop them being MD8’s crisis club? Absolutely not.
MD7: matchweek postponed
Arsenal will reach October having only dropped points in one league game all season, the 3-1 defeat to Manchester United in MD6. Clearly Arsenal are not a club in actual ongoing crisis this season – they are top of the Premier League and deservedly so – but it’s important to remember that you can bring crisis onto yourself by getting overly worked up about where a referee hails from and how cards are distributed across the league. Sometimes football is just an unfair low-scoring field invasion sport, sometimes you go an entire league season without defeat. If crisis club narrative proves anything it’s you have to take the rough with the smooth.
Chelsea narrowly escaped official crisis club status in MD3 but in MD5 they could avoid it no longer. A dismal 2-1 defeat away at Southampton ensured that this would be only the second season this century that Chelsea had lost two of their opening five league games. The other occasion was back in 2015-16 when the club, reigning Premier League champions no less, showed no qualms in sacking their most successful ever manager for the second time. A week or so later, Thomas Tuchel would experience a similar sensation. There’s no hiding from the bleakly iridescent light that shines on each week’s crisis club in the Premier League. Avoid it at all costs.
MD4: AFC Bournemouth
For a while on the Saturday it looked like Manchester City – the reigning champions themselves – would sensationally become the Premier League’s new crisis club. Pep Guardiola’s team were 2-0 down at home to pests Crystal Palace after only 21 minutes and crisis-watchers cross the globe were preparing a series of takes and angles. But then Bernardo Silva pulled one back and Erling Haaland casually dropped a hat-trick in the space of 19 minutes. All of which meant that just as Liverpool had taken the crisis club mantle from their opponents in MD3, so they would hand it over to a Bournemouth team who came to Anfield and lost 9-0. Now, it’s relatively hard for a newly promoted club to be designated as a crisis club as no-one expects them to win too much, especially at venues like Anfield. But the sheer number of goals they let in (this is the third time in four Premier League seasons that a team based geographically near Peppa Pig World has lost 9-0) and the fact that the club themselves chose to dismiss manager Scott Parker in the aftermath of the defeat means that the crisis club mantle sat well with the Cherries that week.
MD3: Chelsea for two days then Liverpool
After two matchweeks cowering in the crisis cupboard, Manchester United enjoyed the sweetest passing of the baton possible as they defeated arch-rivals Liverpool to not only get some 2022-23 points on the board, but also to ensure that Jürgen Klopp’s winless Reds became the division’s new standard-bearers for momentary crisis. Liverpool conceded the opening goal of the game for the seventh Premier League match in a row, an unwanted club record, and once again left themselves with too much to do. It was the first time in a decade they had started a season without winning any of their opening three games. Sounds like crisis time to me, and it proved massively useful to Thomas Tuchel who had seen his Chelsea side get thumped 3-0 at Leeds on Saturday, giving them 48 hours of unwanted main character attention before Liverpool’s Monday night trip to Manchester.
MD2: Manchester United
The heat was intense at the Brentford Community Stadium and so was the reaction to one of Manchester United’s worst ever league reversals. Erik ten Hag’s side looked utterly out of sorts as they fell to a 4-0 defeat, Brentford’s first win against them since 1938. It meant that Manchester United ended a day bottom of the Premier League for the first time since August 1992 and it was their fourth successive away defeat, the club’s worst run of that sort since 1979. If there’s a blueprint for what makes a crisis club in the Premier League then this was surely it. This is Manchester United Football Club we’re talking about.
MD1: Manchester United
Early August seems like a long time ago. Graham Potter was still the Brighton & Hove Albion manager back then and the future Chelsea boss took his team to Old Trafford on the opening Sunday and guided them to their first ever away win against Manchester United, producing 12 first-half shots against their illustrious hosts in a superb display. In crisis club terms that put Manchester United straight into the hot seat that had been warmed by Liverpool for 24 hours (after they started their 2022-23 campaign with a nervous 2-2 draw at promoted Fulham). Erik ten Hag’s job had got off to the worst possible start, but surely a fresh crisis outfit would be along in a week’s time to take the pressure off the Dutchman? That’s how it works, right? Not always, Erik.